Neo-Shamanism

Neo-Shamanism – Also neo-Shamanism, neoshamanism, new shamanism, whiteshamanism, contemporary shamanism, urban shamanism, Western shamanism. A term applied by scholars to engagement with, application of, or appropriation from indigenous or prehistoric shamanism by Westerners (mostly those of European descent) for personal or community healing and empowerment. With an increase in entheogen tourism, there are now many books recounting neo-shamanic experiences, one of the most compelling of which is Daniel Pinchbeck’s Breaking Open the Head: A Visionary Journey from Cynicism to Shamanism (2002). Worldwide, the most popular practice is that of core shamanism taught by Michael Harner, founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, to Westerners as well as Native people seeking to revive their own traditions. A number of indigenous and Métis (partindigenous) shamans have also taught neo-shamans, including Sun Bear and Brooke Medicine Eagle, while the teachings of Nicholas Black Elk are also popular. Other key figures in the United States are Carlos Castaneda, who popularized shamanism with his series of books on the fictional Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan, and Lynn Andrews, who styled the medicine wheel teachings for non-Native Americans. Other neo-shamans have turned to prehistoric indigenous traditions in Northern Europe in order to reconstruct ancient shamanisms for contemporary Wiccan, Celtic, and Norse Pagan practice, most notably the Heathen practice of seidr and Druidic revival of Awenyddion. Key figures in Great Britain include the environmental educator Gordon “the Toad” MacLellan and the founders of Eagle’s Wing for Contemporary Shamanism, Leo Rutherford and Howard Charing, who offer drumming and other workshops. Most recently, the Sacred Trust, founded and directed by Simon Buxton, has become the most prominent organization for neo-shamans in Great Britain. Such magazines as Sacred Hoop and Shamans’ Drum serve as resources to practitioners seeking information on shamans and workshop programs.

Those who genuinely feel their practices are authentic and not dissimilar from indigenous traditions might deem the term neoshaman offensive. Nonetheless, neo-shamanic practices do tend to romanticize indigenous shamans, neglect the negative aspects of “dark shamans,” and be more consumer-oriented and based on self-growth. Others directly appropriate indigenous traditions despite clear opposition from such groups as the American Indian Movement. Native American spirituality has been a focus of contention in this regard, as some elders have openly taught nonNatives, while others have condemned the commodification of their spiritual practices.

Taking a more nuanced approach than those who might be termed “wannabe Indians,” the title “shaman” is viewed as honorific by practitioners such as MacLellan, whose efforts are aimed at community education and healing rather than self-oriented personal development. The boundary between indigenous/prehistoric shamans and neo-shamans is increasingly permeable, as accelerating numbers of Westerners engage with indigenous shamans directly, and vice versa, such as in ayahuasca and peyote ceremonies. The study of neoshamanism, and its cognate contemporary Paganism, gained coherency and respectability in the 1990s with work by Graham Harvey, Marion Bowman, Ronald Hutton, and others. Ethnographies of neo-shamanisms have been offered by Jenny Blain, Galina Lindquist, and Robert Wallis.

SOURCE:

Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007

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